Right off the bat, I am going to burst your bubble, as all states have building codes. However, some counties and regions either have no building codes or are not enforced at all. Building codes are extremely important, especially in urban areas, and generally speaking, they are strictly enforced in urban areas. On the other hand, rural areas tend to have fairly relaxed building codes, as long as you paid your dues nobody is going to bother you.
The states with no building codes are Colorado, Hawaii, Arizona, Arkansas, Texas, Alabama, Wyoming, Michigan, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Missouri. The counties without building codes are Delta County in Colorado, Montezuma County in Colorado, Arcosanti Urban Laboratory in Arizona, Brewster County in Texas, Wonder Valley in California, Marfa County in Texas, Terlingua Texas, and Miller County Missouri.
Even if you build in an area where there are no building codes you will still need to use a septic system that is allowed in the area, if you are allowed to set up a composting toilet then my personal recommendation is to use one that comes with a 5 year warranty and is easy to empty and clean Click here to check it out on Amazon.com
A lot of people who live off the grid do not even have a building permit, and there are a lot of reasons why they are not getting one, although if you get caught you might have your homestead bulldozed. Although all states do have building codes, but some counties in some states do not have any kind of building codes. The problem is that areas without building codes are vanishing extremely fast.
One county could have no building codes today, and it could have tomorrow, it all depends on the local authorities. In counties where there are building codes but they are not enforced, you will take a fairly big risk if you build there. Usually what tends to happen is that some local authorities will keep the building codes as leverage, and if they set their eyes on your property and you don’t want to sell it, they will just bulldoze your property.
Luckily this doesn’t happen often, but you might be surprised how many government officials abuse their powers in smaller communities. Generally speaking, if you are looking for areas without building codes then you have to look at places with a relatively low population density, and as far away from cities as possible. Just remember, that there are some serious consequences if you build in an area with building codes and you do not have a permit, for more information check out my recent article Consequences of building without a permit ( Top 6 ).
Delta County in Colorado
Delta County is located in the western part of Colorado, this county has no building codes at all, you do not need a building permit, and once you have built your homestead the local authorities do not even issue a certificate of occupancy. If you are planning to build your homestead in this county then make sure that you hire a local contractor or engineer. Even though this county doesn’t have building codes, you will still have to build in a safe manner. If you are looking for counties that offer free land then check out my recent article ( Top 25 ) Places to live off the grid for free.
Montezuma County in Colorado
Montezuma County doesn’t have a building code although this only applies to residential buildings. For commercial and industrial buildings, this county has a building code. In short, you can easily build a homestead without any permit in this county, although this only applies to unincorporated areas. This means that some areas do actually have a building code but for the most part this county doesn’t have any building codes.
Arcosanti Urban Laboratory in Arizona
The Arcosanti Urban Laboratory is actually an experimental city, there are no building codes by law, but the local engineers do follow the teaching of Paolo Soleri who designed the city. The problem is that I am not entirely sure if this is an open community and if they let anybody build there.
Brewster County in Texas
Brewster County has a fairly low population of around 9000 residents, the population density is fairly low and the size of the county is the biggest in Texas. This is a border county, which means the crime rate tends to be fairly high, the good news is that this county doesn’t have any building codes http://www.brewstercountytx.com/permits-procedures/.
Wonder Valley in California
The state of California is probably one of the most expensive ones if you want to build a homestead. Luckily there is a county named Wonder Valley, which does, in fact, have building codes but they are not really enforced. This county has a lot of abandoned homesteads and cabins, and some of them are inhabited by families. These abandoned buildings are not up to the building code, but the local authorities are not demolishing them, yet.
Marfa County in Texas
Marfa is a small county in texas, currently, there are no building codes yet adopted by the local authorities. A lot of people have actually started to rebuild abandoned buildings without needing a permit. Although the no building code rule only applies for residential buildings, for commercial and industrial buildings you will need to follow the statewide building code. The best thing about Texas is that it is, in fact, one of the best states for off grid living.
Terlingua is a mining district, there are several abandoned towns, villages, and mines in this area. This area doesn’t have any building codes what so ever, and it seems that this will not change in the near future. This is where the popular off gridder John Wells lives and documents his everyday life on his popular blog http://thefieldlab.blogspot.com/.
Miller County Missouri
Miller County does have building codes, but they are not enforced for the most part. There are several families living off the grid in this county and most of them didn’t bother with getting a permit or respecting the local building codes. In the next couple of years, the local authorities might start enforcing the building code, but for now, this is not the case. If you are planning to build a homestead here without a permit then you have to be 100% sure that the building code is not enforced.
As you can see there are not that many areas without a building code and some areas have their own problems besides needing a permit to build. My personal recommendation is to take a look around in your own state, odds are there are a couple of counties which either do not have a building code, or they are not enforced at all. Good luck!